Earl Thomas is everything to the Seahawks
Seattle’s All-Pro safety Earl Thomas is one of the game’s best at what he does. It’s a role he’s been preparing for all his life.
Earl Thomas had it figured out when he was only 6 years old. Back then his father in their Orange, Texas, yard taught him press coverage, bump-and-run coverage and how to turn and cover receivers. He taught him how to get his hands on the ball.
Those were simple days, says Thomas, a life filled with football and church.
“There was no mall,” he said. “No hanging out at the movies.”
Just football and church.
School was hard and money was tight, but even then Thomas just knew that football would be his passion, career and life. He promised himself that. The journey took him first to the University of Texas and now to the Seattle Seahawks.
It is his fifth season as a Seattle free safety. He is 25. And something remarkable is happening in his life.
A dedication to his craft. A happiness that is not external but driven by inner peace. An amazing strength mixed with wondrous vulnerability. A willingness to kill his ego daily. A desire to serve his teammates and invite their embrace and respect, something that he says “fills my heart.”
There are very few NFL players who possess a pure love of the game like Earl Thomas.
All of this is translating into spectacular play — 71 tackles (36 in first halfs, 35 in second halfs), two forced fumbles, and an interception this season. He is igniting the Seattle defense and the Seahawks season as they have risen to a 9-4 record.
Seldom does a coach describe any player in the manner that Seattle head coach Pete Carroll does Thomas: “One of the truly great competitors. So important for him to be the very best. A ferocious, great competitor who never slacks off. He leads. He responds. One of the steadying and reliable forces among us who brings everything you could ever hope for to a team.”
Thomas is the center fielder of the defense. He is the last line and he is a central core.
Seldom does a Hall of Fame player talk about a current player who plays his old position in the manner that Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott does about Thomas.
“Hall of Fame?” Lott said. “We are looking at someone in Earl Thomas who has that kind of capability. You can start thinking that way. There are guys like Ed Reed who just left the game and Troy Polamalu who is still in it who we think of that way. They garner that kind of respect. This player is following in those same footsteps.”
Thomas is 5’10 and 205 pounds. There are bigger players at his position. But maybe none as fast or as focused.
He was the 14th player selected in the 2010 draft. No player drafted above him has accomplished nearly as much or soared nearly as high.
“As a child, I had a feel for this game,” Thomas said. “I already practiced these type of moments. In baseball I played center field. In football I guess you could say I play the same thing. Most days I come to work at 8 a.m. and leave at 10 p.m. I study hard what offenses are trying to do me and to our defense. And then I retain that in games.”
He employs that knowledge in games.
That is part of the beauty of his performance, Lott says.
“When I watch him play I can see that he is trying to understand the next opportunity,” Lott said. “It’s one thing to just play, but he is thinking about what the offensive coordinator is thinking about and what the quarterback is trying to do to attack him. He is thinking about all of the elements of how the offense is trying to attack his defense, especially in certain ways. I see him beginning to understand that playing the game of football is like trying to play the game of life. There are times when you play that you can’t just do a lot but you have to do more. And then there are times you have to realize that you can’t make every play but it is important to understand where everybody needs to be. So, sometimes more is more and sometimes less is less. This is part of the art of playing safety.”
Thomas relishes the fact that he can vault quickly forward in run support but can also chase deep and get there in the vertical pass game. He calls this “having it both ways.” But in his first couple of seasons, he sometimes got caught in-between.
“If you are talking about a safety in this league who is aggressive, that’s me,” Thomas said. “I am very aggressive. And teams try to use that against me. But I’ve gotten smarter. And just play harder. And I don’t’ think negative things. If I miss a tackle, if I give up a pass, I learn from it. I don’t find any extra pressure in trying to be great.”
That is exactly what he is doing, trying to be the best player on the field when Seattle plays host to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. That is his persistent method as Seattle seeks playoff entry and a chance to defend its Super Bowl title.
Sometimes when he is around his Seattle teammates, things are as simple as Orange.
“Sometimes in meetings I ask questions just so others can understand things better,” Thomas said. “I already know the answer. I just ask so there can be more dialogue on things my teammates may not be getting a handle on. My teammates have taught me so much about myself. They have elevated me. Love eliminates fear. Sometimes I know I may be wrong on something. Sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone sees things the way I do. Not everyone will approach work the way I do. I have to respect that. You cannot make your teammates do things. You have to respect them and humble yourself and try to reach them in other ways to reach a common goal.”
Thomas puts work into it. He puts practice into it. He puts his time into it. He puts his heart into it. His eyes burn with intensity when he talks football.
He is reminiscent of the most ardent high school football player or semi-pro football player who plays the game not for money but for pure love, for pure appreciation. And this despite the fact that Thomas is the NFL’s highest-paid safety; last April he signed a four-year contract extension worth $40 million with $27.725 million guaranteed.
He did so with both feet firmly planted.
With both eyes on greatness.
“The thing I admire about him is that it is not a physical thing, not a mental thing but a spiritual thing,” Lott said. “When I watch him play he is trying to exercise everything he can out of the game. He is trying to leave everything he can to the sport. I don’t think he is just trying to win championships. He is maximizing every ounce of the game so that he can look back and appreciate it all.
“Nobody ever articulates this properly to many of the young NFL players. They should think more of the game as a gift and privilege. Every time you walk out there it should be with honor and respect for the game and to give all you can to it. Guys that take that kind of journey wake up one day happy and fulfilled, not defeated. It doesn’t define who you are – but what a great part of you it always remains. These are the kinds of things Earl Thomas is showing. And it’s the kind of things he’s giving.”